By R.L. Bynum
There were plenty of positives coming out of North Carolina’s 82–75 loss at Florida State on a day when turnovers again hurt the Tar Heels during key stretches.
The biggest positives were the confidence Caleb Love is building with his 3-point attempts finally falling and the energy Anthony Harris brought to the game when he made his season debut in the second half Saturday at Tallahassee, Fla.
The Tar Heels (8–5, 3–3 ACC) may have found the player who brings that X-factor and can make a big difference the rest of the season in Harris. The word energy came up frequently in postgame comments about what Harris gives UNC.
“I was pretty excited. I can’t lie to you,” said Harris, who last played against Yale on Dec. 30, 2019. “This a lot of emotion going through me but I was still locked in.”
Trainer Doug Halverson went over to talk to Harris shortly before Harris entered the game, Harris got warmed up and he was ready to go.
“It felt great to be back on the court,” said Harris, who Coach Roy Williams told to be ready. “I mean, I’ve been out for over a year now, so just getting a run in is ultimately good. I was ready to play today. I didn’t fully expect to play but he told me just stay ready so that’s what I did.”
Harris made both of his shots in nine minutes, including a 3-pointer, had three assists and no turnovers and brought excellent on-the-ball defense. It was his first action after a long recovery from surgery on the ACL in his left knee in the offseason.
Harris led the team in plus/minus at +10, easily better than the next best of +2 for Andrew Platek.
Williams said he just didn’t want to rush Harris and was concerned about whether he had enough reps going full court in practice. But he was happy with what the 6–4 redshirt freshman guard brought to the game.
“He plays with a tremendous amount of energy,” Williams said. “He’s good defensively, but just the energy level that he brings and then to add a bonus like making the 3-point shot. But just his energy level is extremely important to us and it gave us a little lift at that time.”
Harris looked good but still is working into full game condition. The first time he came off the court was when he asked to come out. He said that he’s been feeling pretty good for a while now but the pandemic affected his recovery time because he had to take some time off from workouts.
What does he think he brings to the team?
“Just bringing some new energy to the team,” Harris said. “Just energy on defense, just being vocal on the court. I feel like everybody feeds off of a vocal leader, someone that’s gonna stay locked in the whole game.”
Just playing at all after more than a year of not being able to get any game action was a huge boost for Harris.
“I wasn’t able to do anything competitive for a long time, and that’s pretty much me. I like to be competitive,” Harris said. “I like to get at people. Just watching was the toughest part but I also learned a lot from watching.”
RJ Davis, who scored a season-high-tying and team-high 16 points (also against UNLV) to lead the Tar Heels, was happy to see Harris finally play.
“We changed the game,” said Davis, who had two 3-pointers. “And you could just tell by the way as soon as he came in, you know, everyone was just locked in. He had a couple of possessions where he played the defense and then he got a back-door layup and the corner three. So, to just step into the fire like that, he bought a lot of energy and kind of changed the game.”
The perimeter shooting struggles were gone for at least one game with a season-high 10 3-pointers (the previous high was nine at Miami) on 41.7% shooting as Kerwin Walton made a season-high-tying four (also against Notre Dame) and Love hit a season-high three. It was UNC’s first loss with 10 or more 3-pointers since falling to Texas in Las Vegas in November 2018.
A 9–2 UNC run cut its deficit to 74–73 on a Day’Ron Sharpe tip-in but RaiQuan Gray responded with a three-point play with 2:02 left. Sharpe missed a couple of easy shots in the final minutes, including a tip of a miss, and Florida State (7–2, 3–1) never gave up the lead.
A three-game winning streak is over for UNC, mostly because many of the 14 turnovers came at bad times. FSU took a 41–37 halftime lead after three UNC turnovers in the last 1:13 helped the Seminoles go on a 6–0 run to end the half. After UNC committed only three turnovers in the game’s first 18 minutes, it committed seven in the five minutes after that.
Walton continues to show he’s the team’s best shooter as he made four 3-pointers and scored a season-high 14 points.
“I feel like each day, we’re gaining confidence within each other,” Davis said. “I just feel like it’s just the little things that matter.”
But it was Love’s trio of 3-pointers and 11 points that might have been the breakthrough game he needed, even though he had no assists and four turnovers. He was 3 of 6 from 3-point range after going 5 of 20 in the previous five games.
“He’s been so concerned about his shot not going in, it’s really hurt the rest of his game,” Williams said. “He can be really good defensively, too. He has all the tools to be a fantastic defensive player and that’s where he needs to improve the most. Today, we needed him to play with a little faster pace, be more attacking. When you’re playing Florida State, it’s either attack or you’re going to be attacked. But I think that his shot is coming around a little bit more and that’s something that he needs for his own confidence.”
Williams continued to limit the number of minutes that Love and Davis are on the court. Saturday. That happened for 66 seconds near the end of the first half and 46 seconds near the end of the game.
Florida State was without freshman star Scottie Barnes, who suffered an ankle injury in the win over N.C. State. But the Seminoles got 21 points from P.J. Walker, who briefly left the game with a foot injury, and 19 from Gray.
The Seminoles made 26 of 27 free-throw attempts, the third-best percentage against UNC in program history behind only Wake Forest’s 32 of 32 in 2005 and N.C. State’s 22 of 22 in 2003.
UNC got outrebounded 30–29. It was only the second time that’s happened this season (also against Kentucky.) The Tar Heels had a more-important edge in offensive rebounding percentage at 38.2%–36.0%.
Carolina returns home for two games next week, facing Wake Forest at 9 p.m. Wednesday (ACC Network) and N.C. State at 2 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2). The Demon Deacons (4–5, 3–4) play at 6 p.m. Sunday in a home game against No. 20 Virginia Tech. The Wolfpack (8–4, 7–3) is on a COVID-19 pause and had its Saturday game with Georgia Tech postponed.
Florida State 82, North Carolina 75
UNC lineup combinations for the game
Pool photos by Miguel Olivella Jr.